HRCP Concerned Over Govt’s Move To Establish Media Tribunals

LAHORE: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) on Wednesday showed deep concern over the government’s announcement to set up media tribunals.

“Given the government’s woeful record on press freedoms, HRCP urges it to refrain from pressurising the media further,” read HRCP’s statement shared on Twitter. “How are tribunals expected to maintain the media’s independence?” it said.

The HRCP’s statement comes on the heels of the federal cabinet decision to set up “media courts” in the country to apparently ensure speedy disposal of media-related cases within 90 days. The plan for this move was approved by the federal cabinet during a meeting chaired by Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan at PM Office.

While briefing media persons about the cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Special Assistant to the PM (SAPM) on Information Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan had said that the “media tribunals” would be formed after the passage of a bill by the parliament while admitting that the government had not taken all stakeholders, including media persons, owners of media houses and media bodies into confidence in connection with this move.

She had also said, “The prime minister has ordered the passage of the bill for the formation of media tribunals and for tabling it in the ongoing session of the National Assembly so a healthy debate could take place on the issue.” The government would sit down with media organisations to discuss this matter later, she had added.

She had further said that media-related cases were currently being handled by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) and the Press Council of Pakistan, but now Pemra would refer such cases to the newly established media tribunals.

She gave assurances that the media tribunal would not only decide cases against media persons and media house owners, but also hear complaints against the government.”

Further, Awan said that, “Whenever Pemra took up a case against any media organisation, an impression was created that it was initiated on the government’s orders.” Therefore, the tribunals, which would be regulated by superior courts, have been established to ensure free and fair trial, she added.

Responding to the government’s move, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar said that his party would not support any move that tries to gag the media which was against fundamental rights of expression.

“The bill would not be allowed to be passed in the parliament by the opposition who enjoy a majority in the Senate,” he added.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Finance on Wednesday announced the establishment of a Media Monitoring Cell for the purpose of monitoring economy related news in the media to issue immediate rejoinders, rebuttals and clarifications.

In a notification issued on September 16, the finance ministry announced that the cell would comprise of three members, including Special Secretary Finance and Spokesperson Omar Hamid Khan, Economic Advisor Imtiaz Ahmed and Director General (Media) Hamid Raza Khan.

The cell would be authorised to appoint any officer or seek assistance from any office/officer within the ministry, the notification added.